The ups and downs of Saudi women drivers

Badria al-Bishr
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When the Saudi religious police announced that its officers will not arrest women driving cars because there is no law against it, some considered this a positive step towards achieving women's right to drive. This thorny issue resembles the global stance on using chemical weapons in Syria! People in Saudi Arabia, in addition to the public institutions and the officials' statements, take turns to use their veto rights regarding this issue.

Some say it's a western cause that aims to destroy the society's morals.

Badria al-Bishr

This cause has previously seen two initiatives. The first one was launched in 1990 when 40 women drove cars. The initiative was harshly thwarted and the women's act was condemned. The women who drove the cars were punished by preventing them from carrying out their jobs for two years. The details of this story can be found in the book “The Sixth of November” written by two of the women.


The second initiative was in 2011, twenty years after the first one was launched. The initiative was launched via YouTube by writer Manal al-Sharif. She called on women to individually, not collectively, drive their cars on June 17, 2011. 280,000 women responded with this campaign via Facebook. They echoed slogans in a zealous manner that resembles the zeal directed towards the Palestinian cause.


A short while before the scheduled date, Manal al-Sharif was arrested while driving her car and held in detention for two weeks. She was set free before June 17, 2011. On June 17, the government realized that journalists from prominent global media outlets were enthusiastic to cover the event that defied the practice of preventing women from driving. They noted that even in Afghanistan women drive their cars. Therefore, orders were given to Saudi police not to take action against women who drove cars. So, what was the result? Only 50 women drove their cars across Saudi. They published videos on YouTube. Some said that detaining Manal al-Sharif for two weeks scared other women from driving their cars on that day. And others said that people were worried about their daughters so they didn't let them participate in the event.

Trying again

Currently, there are hints of a new campaign set for October 25, 2013. The initiative once again calls for women's right to drive cars. The reactions on the matter are still the same. Some say this is a silly cause and that women must demand more important rights linked to job opportunities and marital status laws. Some say it's a western cause that aims to destroy the society's morals. Others, however, agree and say that our society is not culturally ready yet. This time, I will stand by the latter and agree that everything that has been said is true. But I think that it's in the people's interest to let them figure out these facts on their own. Let's not make this issue bigger than it actually is and figure out how many women will drive their cars. If only ten women do so in each city, then the case does not deserve all this fuss. Let the society figure out how many women really find this necessary and possible.

Let women confront their reality. Can she or can't she? Will she protest or not? If only ten women respond with the upcoming initiative and drive their cars, then let them do so. How will you be harmed if ten women drive their cars to run their errands themselves? Half of the cars in the world's cities are driven by women. Some buses and airplanes are also driven by women. The world hasn't collapse and people haven't become corrupt. Therefore, I sincerely hope that officials overlook this and “let it pass without any scandals.”

This article was first published in al-Hayat on September 21, 2013.


Dr. Badria al-Bishr is a multi-award-winning Saudi columnist and novelist. A PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut, and an alumnus of the U.S. State Department International Visitor program. Her columns put emphasis on women and social issues in Saudi Arabia. She currently lectures at King Saud University's Department of Social Studies.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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